Not signed up for YALSA’s 2013 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. If you’re finished, fill out the form at the bottom of this post to let us know!
I, personally, was very excited about this particular reading challenge. Why? Because I never seem to carve out time to read nonfiction titles. I read an article online recently (I’m kicking myself for not noting the link) that said something to the effect of, “a nonfiction book is good if it engages the reader and convinces him/her to read about subject matter that they might not normally have any interest in.” Makes sense, right? But how do nonfiction authors get us to pick up those books?
The first book I’m tackling from the nominee pool for YALSA’s 2013 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction is Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson. I’ll have a more detailed blog post about this one later in January 2013. But for now, I can tell you what appeals to me about this book, even before reading the first word:
- The abundance of historical photographs
- The information “callout boxes” containing actual recorded testimonies and interesting sidebars of information
When I read a nonfiction book, I need some way to immerse myself in the time period and really feel like I’m reliving whatever event the author is trying to shed new light on. One recent nonfiction title that I was particularly enamored of was one of the 2012 nominees for YALSA’s Nonfiction Award, Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer. It had never-fail compelling subject matter, and it was filled with actual court testimonies and accounts that I had never before read. It really gave new life to the whole Salem witch trials debacle — I couldn’t put it down. And the content was in easily digestible nuggets of knowledge: I wasn’t overwhelmed with historian analysis. In contrast, I had some difficulty with YALSA’s nonfiction winner last year, The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin. Don’t get me wrong, by the time I had reached the final page, I was thoroughly engaged in the story and was amazed at how little I knew about the true story behind Benedict Arnold’s life. I can see why it won the award, and overall I really liked the book on a personal level. However, the book contained a plethora of very detailed information about endless battles in the Revolutionary War. Those details are, of course, arguably important in telling Benedict Arnold’s life story. But as a reader who does not normally explore historical conflicts in that level of detail, it was a struggle at times to slog through some of the battle descriptions and action sequences.
I guess when all is said and done, there is always an element of personal taste that comes into play (just like with fiction titles). I predict I’ll be very enamored of Moonbird and Titanic on this year’s nominee list, less so with the Steve Jobs bio and We’ve Got a Job. Why? Mostly due to the subject matter. And I’m on the fence with an early prediction of how I’ll like Bomb — it feels like a title that could really creep up and grab hold of me. I’m just glad we have a YALSA list to inspire me to read some of these wonderful titles. And I’m really excited by the read-alike lists that others will be blogging about. There are always readers who enjoy a good nonfiction book over any other genre, but I’d love to expose more fiction devotees to the great nonfiction titles out there by linking it to some of the books they already know and love.
What do you look for in a nonfiction title? What do you think makes a good nonfiction title “good”? And don’t forget to fill out the form below if you’ve finished the challenge!
— Nicole Dolat, currently reading Titanic: Voices from the Disaster